Ubuntu Touch's browser
Only a handful of apps are available on the developer preview of Ubuntu Touch, including a browser, a video player, a music player, a Twitter client, a photo-taking app a Facebook client, a basic note-taker, a basic weather app, and of course a phone client. There are no other real apps, not even an email app. These apps were basic, as you'd expect. The Twitter app was very much like the Android versions -- simple and clean -- though really just a mobile Web page. The browser was simple and clean as well, with a hidable URL bar; it so far has no bookmarking capabiities. The Camera app had the nice touch of organizing photos by date and time taken, similar to iPhoto's and the iOS Photos app's Events views, but presented more visually.
Amusingly, when I pulled down the tray for the email icon at the top of the screen, I was asked to sign into a Gmail account (no other options available), which I did. I was then asked if I wanted to access Gmail on the Web or via an app. I had it download the app, only to get an error page showing a link to the Apple App Store for the iOS version of the Gmail app. Oops! That won't install, much less run, in Ubuntu!
The Apps screen shows icons for a bunch more apps for download, but most aren't yet available. If you scroll up past the apps list, you get thumbnails of the currently open apps, similar to Android's app tray, except it's in the main Apps screen.
Ubuntu Touch's device tray
What I found bizarre was the lack of a Settings app. So far, you can set only the volume, brightness, Airplane Mode, and Wi-Fi network using the pull-down tray from the top of the screen.
I wanted to take a series of screenshots or photos of the Ubuntu Touch to show more of what it looks like, but I could find no way to do so. In trying to see if there were any key combinations similar to those of iOS and Android, I turned off the Nexus 4. It wouldn't turn back on -- which the Canonical documentation says is a rare possibility for a Nexus 4 that has a drained battery. My battery was 30 percent charged and the Nexus 4 was connected to a power source. Still, it was a brick.
Canonical says you can reset a bricked Nexus 4 running Ubuntu Touch by removing the battery and reinserting it. But the Nexus 4 has no removable battery. Although people like the tear-apart experts at iFixIt have managed to pry off the case, I could not, even after removing the two Torx screws. I did, however, manage to start damaging the screen's protective coating, so I stopped.
Ubuntu Touch killed my Nexus 4. Oh well, the Nexus 4 isn't a great smartphone anyhow.
But wait! A few hours later, my dead Nexus 4 came back to life -- I have no idea why -- with Ubuntu Touch running as if nothing had happened. Finally, I was able to take photos of the screen, even though not screenshots.
Ubuntu Touch is intriguing to me, and I look forward to trying out future versions, which Canonical promises will come swiftly and with major improvements. Canonical appears to be taking a fairly simple direction, so I don't expect iOS-level sophistication or app capabilities, and I doubt we'll even get Android-like midlevel capabilities. If anything, Ubuntu looks to be a lightweight mobile OS primarily for Web, social media, and messaging use -- more like Windows Phone but with a more compact user interface. For many users, that's enough.
There's also hope that the lightweight aspirations will mean that Ubuntu Touch phones will use cheaper hardware, making the somewhat-smartphone more broadly affordable globally.
This article, "Hands-on with the Ubuntu Touch Linux smartphone," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.